Cubs

When do recruiting ratings become relevant?

598224.png

When do recruiting ratings become relevant?

It's the first week of June and a consensus of the leading recruiting services in the country indicates that Michigan, Alabama, Texas, Florida, Ohio State, Florida State, USC, Georgia, Auburn and Notre Dame have accumulated the top 10 classes in the nation for 2013.

Rivals and Scout both rate Michigan No. 1 while ESPN favors Alabama, but Rivals rated Alabama No. 1 and Michigan No. 7 before its most recent update. Georgia has made a huge leap to No. 2 by Rivals, No. 4 by Scout and No. 5 by ESPN. Texas remains No. 2 with Scout, No. 3 with Rivals and ESPN.

"Michigan has the top overall class in the nation as June begins," reported recruiting analyst Chris Nee of Rivals.com. "The Wolverines lead the country in total commitments. Among their 20 commitments, 14 are rated four-star prospects. Seven of those prospects are members of the Rivals 100, led by the nation's No. 2 pro-style quarterback, Shane Morris."

But is any of this relevant? High school football players can make as many oral commitments as they want--until they sign binding letters-of-intent on national signing day in February. So does it make sense to take any surveys that are published in June seriously?

"No," said recruiting analyst Tom Lemming of CBS Sports Network, who has been evaluating high school talent for 33 years. "They are put together for people who go online, to attract people. The lists will be completely different on signing day because there are a lot more players still to commit.

"Why are they doing it now? Internet websites have to differentiate themselves from one another. It's something to do in the off-season. Recruiting is a 12-month-a-year occupation, so college fans are always wondering who is committing or who is recruiting whom or who is thinking of committing.

"But you an always expect certain schools to be on the list. And you can predict now that most of them will be on the list on signing day. It isn't brain surgery. You can always count on Alabama, Ohio State, USC, Florida, Michigan, Texas and Notre Dame. And now Florida State is back. And LSU will be there at the end."

In fact, Rivals, ESPN and Scout rate only a few wild cards on their lists. Stanford, Auburn, Clemson, Texas A&M and Missouri aren't usually included among the top 10, but they have fielded winning teams in recent years and have been threatening to break into the elite group.

There isn't a secret to all of this. The best players want to play for the best programs in football or basketball. They want to play for coaches and programs that have reputations for grooming players for the next level, the NFL or NBA, and for playing for national championships.

Critics complain about recruiting analysts who evaluate athletes according to 2-star, 3-star, 4-star or 5-star ratings, but history reveals they are right more often than they are wrong. And how many 5-star athletes enroll at Illinois, Northwestern, Purdue or Minnesota?

The SEC is the most dominant football conference in the country and there are reasons why. Conference schools pay their head coaches and assistant coaches more than anyone else. And SEC schools annually recruit the best players and the best classes in the country.

Ratings are based on scholarship offers. It doesn't take a nuclear scientist to figure out the formula that is used by most recruiting services. You don't see a 5-star player without a lot of offers from top 20 programs, do you? The offers come first, then the ratings.

"If the top 10 schools offer a kid, he is a 4-star or 5-star," Lemming said. "It comes down to offers, not ability. Look at the NFL draft. How many 5-star players are selected in the first round? Not many. Recruiting ratings are arbitrary, just one way to rate players."

Of Rivals.com's top 100 players in the class of 2013, Michigan and Texas have seven, USC and Ohio State have five, Alabama and Florida have four.

The nation's No. 1 player by most accounts, defensive end Robert Nkemdiche of Loganville, Georgia, is considering Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Florida, Georgia and Tennessee.

Alabama has commitments from three of the top 35 players--linebacker Reuben Foster (2) of Auburn, Alabama, running back Alter Tenpenny (20) of North Little Rock, Arkansas, and tight end O.J. Howard (35) of Antauga, Alabama.

Foster is the nation's top-rated linebacker and Howard is the nation's top-rated tight end. Texas has the nation's top-rated quarterback, Max Browne of Sammamish, Washington, and USC has the nation's top-ranked running back, Ty Isaac of Joliet Catholic.

Georgia has 19 commitments, including the nation's top-rated athlete, Derrick Henry, safety Tray Matthews and Brandon Kublanow of Marietta, Georgia, the nation's No. 2 center.

According to Rivals, Illinois' class of 2013 ranks No. 20 in the nation based on new coach Tim Beckman's ability to land quarterback Aaron Bailey of Bolingbrook, the only four-star prospect in the fold.

Why what Mike Montgomery did against LA could go a long way toward keeping him in the Cubs' rotation

6-19mikemontgomery.jpg
USA Today

Why what Mike Montgomery did against LA could go a long way toward keeping him in the Cubs' rotation

Joe Maddon needed Mike Montgomery to get through at least six innings given the circumstances presenting the Cubs' manager before Game 2 of Tuesday’s day-night doubleheader against the Los Angeles Dodgers. 

Not only were the Cubs short a man in the bullpen (thanks to Brandon Morrow’s pants-related back injury), but Maddon had to use four relievers — including Pedro Strop for two innings — after Tyler Chatwood managed only five innings in Game 1 earlier in the afternoon. 

So when Montgomery — who had only thrown over 100 pitches once in the last two and a half seasons before Tuesday — saw his pitch count sit at 40 after two innings, and then 63 after three, he knew he needed to regroup to avoid creating a mess for the Cubs’ bullpen. 

What followed was a start that, statistically, wasn’t the most impressive of the five Montgomery’s made since re-joining the Cubs’ rotation earlier this year. But it was an important start in that the 28-year-old left-hander didn’t have his best stuff, yet didn’t give in to a good Dodgers lineup. And holding that bunch to one run over six innings was exactly what the Cubs needed in what turned out to be a 2-1 extra-inning win. 

“Especially when you don’t have have your best stuff, you always gotta — that’s when you really learn how to pitch,” Montgomery said. 

It’s also the kind of start that could be a major point in Montgomery’s favor when Maddon is presented with a decision to make on his starting rotation whenever Yu Darvish comes off the disabled list. Knowing that Montgomery can grind his way through six innings when his team needs it the most without his best stuff only can add to the confidence the Cubs have in him. 

Montgomery didn’t have his best stuff on Tuesday, issuing more walks (four) than he had in his previous four starts (three). He threw 48 pitches between the second and third innings, and only 25 of those pitches were strikes. Of the nine times the Dodgers reached base against Montgomery, six were the result of fastballs either leading to a walk or a hit. 

Even though the Dodgers were able to bother Montgomery a bit on his fastball, Maddon said that’s the pitch of his that’s impressed him the most over the last few weeks. 

“He never got rushed,” Maddon said. “In the past he would seem to get rushed when things weren’t going well, when he spot-started. Overall, fastball command is better — even though he was off a little bit tonight, the fastball command still exceeds what I’ve seen in the past couple of years on a more consistent basis. The changeup, really, good pitch. He got out of some jams but I think the fact that he knows where his fastball is going now is the difference-maker for him.”

Darvish will throw a simulated game on Wednesday after throwing two bullpen sessions last week. Maddon still doesn’t have a timetable for the $126 million right-hander’s return, and said he’s not entertaining what to do with his rotation until Darvish comes off the disabled list. But Maddon did mention Montgomery’s relative lack of an innings load — the most he’s thrown in a season in 130 2/3, which he did in 2017 — as a reason to perhaps not rush him into a permanent starting role the rest of the season. Going to a six-man rotation is a possibility, too, Maddon said. 

But the over-arching point is this: Montgomery will remain in the Cubs’ rotation as long as he keeps earning it. That can be the product of strong outings in which he has good stuff, or games like Tuesday in which he shows the Cubs the kind of resiliency most starters need to get through a full season. 

“I pitch well, good things happen,” Montgomery said. “I’ve always thought that. Opportunities, you just gotta make the most of them.”

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 28th + 29th homers in 1998

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 28th + 29th homers in 1998

It's the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Sammy, when Sosa and Mark McGwire went toe-to-toe in one of the most exciting seasons in American sports history chasing after Roger Maris' home run record. All year, we're going to go homer-by-homer on Sosa's 66 longballs, with highlights and info about each. Enjoy.

For the second time in 1998, Sosa went back-to-back games with multiple home runs. After going yard twice on June 19 of that season, Slammin' Sammy again sent two balls into the bleachers on June 20.

He singlehandedly beat the Phillies that night, driving in 5 runs in a 9-4 Cubs victory.

But that wasn't the most impressive feat of the day from Sosa. His second homer was actually measured at a whopping 500 feet! It was the longest of the season, but not the longest of his career. On June 24, 2003, Sosa hit a homer at Wrigley measured at 511 feet.

The back-to-back big games raised Sosa's season OPS to 1.083 with a ridiculous .685 slugging percentage. He began June 1998 with a .608 slugging percentage.

Fun fact: Kerry Wood struck out 11 batters in 7.1 innings on June 20, 1998 to pick up his 7th big-league victory. As Wood marched to the National League Rookie of the Year that season, he finished with a 13-6 record and 233 strikeouts in only 166.2 innings for a career-high 12.6 K/9 rate.